Copyright is held by the author.
THE KETTLE shuddered to a stop, interrupting his thoughts. Usually his wife had his coffee ready when he came down to the kitchen in the morning. Eyeing the instant coffee in his favourite mug, Jack Rupert thrummed the granite countertop as he wondered about Mary’s whereabouts.
It was unlike Mary not to be here at this hour of the morning. She always started her day with a cup of tea. Nothing as simple as a tea bag in a mug. His head lifted in a derisive snort as he thought of her morning ritual.
First, Mary warmed the clear glass pot she referred to as an infuser. Then, she carefully measured English Breakfast Tea — not Irish, as he had mistakenly purchased once, but English — into the narrow glass cylinder. After pouring hot water over the loose tea, Mary waited five minutes — not three minutes or 10 minutes, but five minutes — for the tea to steep.
She always sipped her tea from the black and white china cup with the gold edging. On vacation, seeing her pinched expression as she drank regular tea from roadside restaurant ware was a comical sight.
Mug in hand, he schlepped into the front foyer just as the paperboy crossed the street. Jack took a swallow of the scalding drink and waited. Randy trudged up the walkway, leaving the paper in the rack beside the front door.
“Morning son, how ’bout them Jays?”
Randy, his mouth downturned, shuffled away without acknowledging Mr. Rupert’s greeting.
“Randy, why are you so glum this morning?” he called out to the retreating figure.
The young boy continued to the front sidewalk, hefting the canvas shoulder bag as he headed to the next house on his route.
Jack shrugged and reached for the paper. The outside air was neither hot nor cold. There was no breeze or humidity.
With newspaper and coffee in hand, he turned down the hall to the second doorway on the left. The room had originally been his daughter’s bedroom. When she married and left home, Mary had transformed it to a den. Upon his retirement, Jack insisted that Mary convert the den to an office with a desk and computer.
His slipper-clad feet scuffed across the fringed rug in the centre of the room. With his usual sense of satisfaction, he eyed the shelves lined with books. Some he had read, and most he had not. In this room he answered emails, checked eBay, paid his bills online, and read the morning paper.
Taking another sip of coffee, he rested the mug on a coaster — something his wife insisted on even in his office — loosened his robe and settled in the wing-backed chair by the window. Grunting from the simple effort, reflections of his doctor’s report shadowed his thoughts.
Jack scanned the newspaper noting the usual talk of expansion, politics, and local gossip. The sports section did not reveal any news. He had seen the games and watched the interviews. That is about all he had done since he quit work.
Mary constantly badgered him to book a trip for the two of them; the one he had promised they would take once he retired. In the Travel Section, he circled some possibilities to show her. Where the devil was Mary? His brows drooped over his eyes.
Movement outside the window caught his attention. Across the road, Bob Burley was watering his flowers. Jack waved when Bob looked in his direction. His neighbour seemed preoccupied and did not respond.
Glancing at the clock on the desk, Jack decided to call one of the travel agencies for more information before he spoke to his wife. The line rang several times before he hung up.
Setting aside the Travel Section, Jack leafed through the Life Section of the paper. He came across the Obituaries, puzzled as always that the Death Notices were in the Life Section. He skimmed the list looking for a familiar name and dreading the thought of finding one.
His heart fluttered and his face contracted as he focused on the small print. He read with astonishment and then burped a chuckle. He reread the notice and spoke aloud, “What a helluva joke. I’m surprised they would even print this.”
Wait until Mary sees it. She won’t find it one bit funny. He lifted that section from the rest of the paper and once again read the notice. Thinking of his wife and wanting to see her, he picked up the phone and called their daughter’s home. Mary spent a lot of time there since the new baby arrived last month. He waited several rings before giving up.
He puzzled over the fact that their answering machine did not take the call, and then realized that there had not been an answering machine at the travel agency either. Thinking his own phone might be out of order, he dressed and headed over to his daughter’s house.
Following his doctor’s advice to exercise, he walked the two blocks to the familiar side split on Mondale Avenue. Through the window of the kitchen door he could see Mary and their daughter sitting at the table.
As he reached for the doorknob, he noticed that Mary was crying. Cathy was consoling her, but she was also crying. Though hesitant to interrupt, Jack was concerned and knocked gently on the glass. Neither woman looked up. He knocked harder but again, no response. He was about to walk in when he noticed his son-in-law enter the garage.
“Greg, what are you doing home on a workday?” Greg bent over and hefted a large toolbox onto the table. “How did all my tools get over here?”
His son-in-law turned and leaned against the workbench. Jack waited. An unsettled feeling came over him ? tightness in his chest and a lump in his throat. He thrust his hands deep into his pockets and his shoulders sagged.
Leaving Greg’s garage, he headed up the street towards home. Bob Burley was still outside when Jack arrived.
A few feet away from Bob, Jack cleared his throat, “You don`t see me, do you Bob; any more than Randy did when he delivered the newspaper; any more than Greg.”
Bob wheeled his lawnmower into position, his face a mask of despondency.
Jack continued walking. He walked several miles without feeling tired and with no perception of the passage of time.
Two concrete angels with outstretched wings marked the entrance to the Resurrection of Angels Cemetery.
The asphalt single lane led to the family plot and the double headstone of his parents. Jack, with rubbery legs and feet of lead, sidled to the next assigned plot and raised his eyes. His mouth yawned in a silent wail of remorse, disappointment, and regret.
He staggered across the path, collapsing onto the unforgiving surface of a stone bench.
His cheeks wet with tears, he implored absolution and begged for release from this purgatory of nonexistence. With hands clasped he then dropped to his knees, pleading for mercy for Mary and the family. Jack prayed frantically.
A soft murmur like the rustle of leaves in a gentle breeze shrouded him. His chanting ceased and he opened his sorrow-filled eyes, his ears straining to the whisper of angels.